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Commemorating the past: the discursive construction of official narratives about the ‘Rebirth of the Second Austrian Republic’.

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date08/2007
JournalDiscourse & Communication
Journal number3
Volume1
Number of pages27
Pages337-363
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

This article analyses the discursive construction of collective and individual memories and the functions of commemorative events for the discursive construction of national identities through the example of Austrian post-war commemorative events. Thus, the various attempts to come to terms with the Nazi past in post-war Austria are illustrated in detail. The article will first summarize the socio-political contexts relating to the relevant post-war commemorative years in Austria (1988, 1995, 2005). Then we will consider sequences of a political speech by the then Austrian chancellor, Dr Wolfgang Schüssel, as one of many possible examples in 2005 which establishes a hegemonic stance towards the Nazi past. Finally, we will discuss our results and illustrate that, in addition to hegemonic discourses, competing narratives aim to provide different answers to the basic question `how should one come to terms with traumatic pasts?' Our results are such that in the hegemonic narrative of Austrian history after 1945, the political event of the Declaration of Independence is represented metaphorically as a `rebirth'; a metaphorical scenario which constructs a `creation myth', and by this anthropomorphization suggests that `newborn' Austria is to be perceived as innocent as a newborn child. On the other hand, the historical events before and after are placed in the cognitive frame of natural disasters or fateful events (`horror', `nightmare', `dark age') and a community of victims is discursively constructed comprising the victims of the Nazi terror as well as the soldiers waging the war of aggression. Discursive patterns apparent in this case study can, of course, be generalized to similar communicative events in many nation-states. The specific systematic and explicit linguistic/pragmatic and discourse-analytic methodology presented in this article lends itself to deconstruct official discourses which influence collective beliefs, opinions and ideologies.